This is the fourth of 10 stories about the best Long Beach youth sports teams we’ve seen over the last decade. We’ve taken nominations from the community and will release the top 10 in no particular order. Come back next week to read about other club squads that made this historic list.
The Long Beach youth sports team to receive the most nominations has been the 2019 Shore Water Polo 10U Coed National Champions, and it’s not even close. Family, friends and fans of this underdog squad flooded our email with fond memories from last summer when these boys and girls won the Junior Olympics National Championship.
“Gritty is a great word to use for them,” coach Zac Polmanteer said of his team. “They suffered through (playing older competition) and trusted (the coaches) and took care of business. But it wasn’t easy, by any means.”
Shore Club Director Chi Kredell and the rest of his experienced coaches have always preached growth and improvement over wins and championships. That includes playing kids in the highest division possible.
“I think there’s a lot of great club teams doing a lot of great stuff, but they’re really worried about getting the trophies, always,” Polmanteer said. “We never make it about success. For us it’s always about getting better.”
The 10U Coed team played in the 12U division for the entire 2019 season leading up to the USA Club Championship in June.
“The size difference between a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old playing water polo is pretty drastic,” Polmanteer said. “They got beat up and it was brutal.”
Shore came back down in division to enter the USA Club Championship as a 10U team and won the title at Don Lugo High in Chino. They were ranked ninth out of 10 seeded teams in the invitational tournament against top teams from around the country.
“We had that one (tournament) to warm up and figure some things out and about a month later it was go time in the show,” Polmanteer said.
In July, Shore entered the Junior Olympics competition at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine ranked No. 26 in the nation. Polmanteer, 25, said his team only playing one 10U tournament that year was an advantage.
“Nobody had us on their radar. They thought (our players) were actually 12 that whole season.”
Shore dominated the 10U Coed competition that weekend, and goaltender Morgan Crichton was named tournament MVP after he held nationally ranked Vanguard to one goal in the championship game.
“Coed is my favorite because you get the best of both worlds,” Crichton said. “Girls have a different playing style. Boys are more aggressive and girls are more strategic.”
“Usually you’re goalie is just someone who is tall for that age and you’re just hoping they get some reach on it, but Morgan actually fit the bill as a goalie goal as a 10-year-old,” Polmanteer said. “He’s a really great athlete who has a bright future.”
“I took on a lot of shots (at Junior Olympics), but our team always came back at them and kept fighting,” Crichton said. “Our team acted really smart against (Vanguard in the championship). We made sure their top players were guarded at all times. We played our game plan and we weren’t selfish.”
Unlike travel baseball and soccer where long trips and hotels are normal, Southern California water polo clubs don’t need the overnight stays where kids really grow a bond and improve team chemistry.
“We’re blessed in way because we’re in the hub of it,” Polmanteer said. “At the same time we missed out on that. I had overnight trips while playing in high school and college and I know how much fun that can be. But you wouldn’t have known. Looking from the outside in (at this team) you would’ve thought those kids were traveling together seven days a week.”
Shore also won the Junior Olympics 10U Coed title six years ago, and Polmanteer said the club is held in high regard.
“While I played in college, guys would tell me they always knew they were going to get a really hard game when they played Shore,” Polmanteer said. “It didn’t matter if we were having a down year or playing up an age group … they knew the game was going to be hard fought.”
“I think legacy has a lot to do with that,” he added. “It’s an attitude thing. You can’t have the Aquatic Capital tied to your city and not try to own it every time you put a cap on. It’s wild to me that 10-year-olds learned that. But they certainly learned that, and more.”